Bill Draheim became familiar with Rachel Gardner after reading her comment on William Gosline’s Spectictulive Fiction piece, The Ship, which included his photography as an integral part of the story.
Rachel then challenged Bill to come up with six photos that best exemplified her story, The Machine’s God. Bill used the surreal photos he composed on his Samsung Convoy flip phone to create a haunting abutment of words to images.
The Machine’s God
How it started:
I went to bed with a fever once and didn’t wake up for nine days. They told me I was incomprehensible, delirious, what came out of my mouth was like a traffic jam of words and animal noises. I woke on the tenth day feeling hungry. I made myself a fried egg sandwich and then I went to my workbench and built the first one.
It came to me in my fever dream. I dreamt of fire, of warm, liquid metal. There was no struggle, I simply held the material in my hands and it seemed to shape itself. I didn’t truly know what I had made until I turned it on. My sister came in the door when I had it in my hand. She lost half the hair on her head. She’s forgiven me since then, but I don’t know if I ever will.
I locked my first creation away under my floorboards. For all I know, it’s still there, under the rotting remains of our old house. The next I tried to manufacture with caution, but the work leapt ahead of my hands before my brain could object. This one scuttled away under the armoire. We didn’t find it for weeks, only its leavings. All the jam in the house missing, teacups broken, and the cat found stark raving mad in the closet. The search ended when I was putting on my greatcoat to go out one day and heard a crunch under my left shoe. I felt bad, despite myself.
This was the one I came to regret the most. It seemed so innocuous when I finished it, made of old pig iron scraps and watch springs. I remember how it fit to the curve of my palm. But then it disappeared for a month. By this time we were used to the machines disappearing for a time after their birth, usually they turned up none the worse for wear. I began to worry when I heard the new mayoral candidate use words I myself had coined, a trip to town hall confirmed my fears. It had grown…and with growth had come a thirst for power. Before I could consign it to the dust, half the town was uninhabitable. Forgive me.
By now they became as pets, or children. Small in my affections. I had created what seemed the entire gamut of terrestrial life, the insect, the dray horse, the worker bee. It was inevitable that I create something of a deity for them. It wasn’t a bother at first. It merely floated around the rafters, sermonizing the others in a series of squeaks and clicks. The others were quiet when it did that, so I let them be. Later that week I discovered a small shrine on the highest gable of my new house. The others were sacrificing themselves, hurling their tiny bodies to the ground below. Well, there was nothing else for it. I got my wrenches and went to disassemble it. The task nearly got the better of me, but in the end I trapped the thing in the furnace. The flame was violet for weeks after that.
I am old now, my hands have lost their surety, and I get lost in conversations I held decades ago. Like any proper machine, I am winding down for the day. A few of them, my machines, my children, pile at my feet, watching. Even if I knew how to talk to them, I would have nothing to say. They are all of them self-sufficient, and seem to take care of themselves. Yet they seem to look to me for…something. No matter. I am busy with my very last creation. It is not black, nor does it contain skeletal parts, but the function should be obvious to all who lay eyes on it. I start it up and hold my arms out for final judgment. One slice and I am machine undone.
Bill Draheim has spent the past 9 years working on various Honolulu-based TV shows and films like LOST, Hawaii Five-0 and Godzilla. Inspired by the sets, props, people and locations that surrounded him, a portfolio of abstract and surreal photographs emerged, all captured on an old flip phone. Some of these photos were used for this collaboration.
Rachel Gardner lives in the part of California that isn’t LA or San Francisco. She has been published several times in the American River Review and is currently pursuing an art degree.